LEWIS HAMILTON managed to avoid paying a hefty drinks bill last night as a startlingly different mood enveloped McLaren in Monaco compared to a year ago.
Hamilton’s victory around the rain-lashed streets of Monte Carlo sparked unbridled scenes of joy immediately after the race, and a substantial party into the bargain.
When the 23-year-old eventually returned to the McLaren centre after a copious round of interviews, it was to a rousing cheer and deafening music, including Michael Jackson’s Beat It.
As the champagne flowed, there was a bear hug from dad Anthony, a “you-da-man” embrace from rapper P Diddy, and a kiss on the cheek from Pussycat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger.
Go back to last May, and despite a one-two finish led by Fernando Alonso, the aftermath on that occasion included accusations, an FIA investigation, and the start of an internal feud. Team orders deprived a flying Hamilton of attacking his then team-mate, and although the FIA cleared McLaren of any wrongdoing, the blue touchpaper to an explosive season had been lit.
If the scenes yesterday are anything to go by, McLaren are a new-found team this season — relaxed, at ease, and ready to enjoy, like last night.
“After crossing the line my engineer said ‘drinks are on you’,” remarked Hamilton. “I was just about to reply and say ‘no problem’, when (team boss) Ron (Dennis) said: ‘don’t worry, I’ll pay for the drinks.’ Even better!”
But there remains the serious issue of a world title to win.
With a third of the season gone, Hamilton is back in the lead by three points to Kimi Raikkonen who suffered a day of disaster in coming home ninth.
In the very next sentence, Hamilton added: “We need to remain focused for the next race, as we want to continue.
“It’s always good to continue with momentum you have.”
Even Dennis conceded the team would “party hard” last night, and whilst there might be a few hangovers, his team will be fully focused on the Canadian Grand Prix in 13 days’ time.
It was a win for Dennis to savour, compared to last year as he said: “There was no controversy.
“It was a great race to be part of, one the whole team felt they had participated in.”
Undoubtedly, Hamilton’s feet will be on the ground at Montreal, the scene of his debut win last year.
Dennis said: “He will go in there realising he’s got to do the best job possible.”
Last year in Canada, Hamilton took the lead in the title race and held on until the final grand prix in Brazil where he missed out on the championship by a point to Raikkonen. There is no denying McLaren’s determination to go one better this season, in particular as last year was wrecked by the in-fighting and spy scandal.
“As a team, we’re galvanised all the time,” added Dennis.!
Meanwhile Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali is adamant the picture is “positive” for his team, despite a miserable Monaco Grand Prix that had a “definitely negative outcome”.
From one-two on the grid, Ferrari mustered just six points from Felipe Massa’s third place as world champion Kimi Raikkonen was a lowly ninth at the end of a shocking performance.
The Finn was forced into a 10-second drive-through penalty early on as his team had failed to fully fit his tyres at the three-minute warning before the formation lap.
Raikkonen then lost his nose cone twice, notably with 10 minutes of the two-hour race remaining when he ran into the back of Force India’s Adrian Sutil after losing control of his car coming out of the tunnel.
At the time Raikkonen was running fifth and on course to retain his championship lead, only to slip out of the points, and he now trails race winner Lewis Hamilton by three.
As for Massa, a spin whilst leading and a poor strategy denied the Brazilian a win from pole position, leaving Domenicali to reflect on a wasted opportunity.
“After a great qualifying it was easy for us to act like prophets foreseeing a possible lottery for the race, given the weather forecast,” said Domenicali.
“We cannot deny we are disappointed, with the result a combination of errors on our part and bad luck. We got off on the wrong foot, with an infringement of the rules in preparing Kimi’s car on the grid minutes before the start resulting in a drive-through penalty.”
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